The Mina, or Port, is part of old Tripoli and its economic importance. Today, the port facility has garnered a bit of a bad reputation (it is a port through which weapons are all too frequently smuggled towards Syria) and it does not have sort of bustling atmosphere that is associated with other waterfront souqs. Nevertheless, it is part of the city's heritage, and still incorporates at least some of its Mameluk-era architecture.
This park, in the centre of the city and across from the Ottoman Clock Tower, is a popular gathering spot for the residents of the city. It is flanked by benches and ambulant vendors selling coffee, drinks and snacks. It's not uncommon to see groups of men standing around gossiping and talking (given the current situation, probably about politics). The flowers here are in bloom during the spring, and they give the entire park a beautiful and inviting burst of colour.
The Clock Tower is one of Tripoli's most popular attractions. It is a tribute to the city's importance in the Ottoman world, as it was constructed in 1906 in order to mark 30 years of Sultan Abdulhamid II's reign, and as were similar constructions in other cities throughout the Ottoan Empire. In the 1990s, it was restored after the end of the Civil War. Its tiered ascent, steeple and the rounded arches all point towards a Europeanization of Ottoman architecture, and a desire to encourage greater "modernization" throughout the Empire.
Located in the heart of the Old City, the multi-domed Great Mosque of Tripoli was built in 1294 AD. It was commissioned by the Mamluke ruler al-Mansour Qalawun soon after he liberated the city from Crusader hands. The location chosen for the mosque had been the site of the Crusader Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Tower (Cathédrale Saint-Marie-de-la-Tour), which had been destroyed along with much of the city first in 12th century earthquakes and then again during the Muslim takeover. The only surviving elements from the cathedral are its Romanesque bell tower, now the mosque's minaret, and the Gothic portal of its main entrance. Past the doorway is a spacious courtyard with a domed ablution fountain at its centre. Architecturally speaking, the conversion of the cathedral into a mosque was the reverse of what happened to Seville's cathedral, which was built on the site of the Great Mosque whose sole survivor is the minaret (la Giralda) and the courtyard (Patio de los Naranjos). When entering the Al Mansouri Mosque, make sure to wear conservative attire (no shorts for men, women should cover most of the body and wear a head scarf). For more photos of this mosque, check out the travelogue: "The Great Mosque of al-Mansouri".
Abdul Rahman Hallab and Son are famous in Lebanon for making traditional sweets since 1881 that are very tasty indeed. The business originated in Tripoli but has several branches in Lebanon and they even have a shop at Beirut Airport.
I visited the El Mina Road branch, Tripoli where you can see the sweets being made. There is a restaurant on site and a coffee shop and the place is usually very busy with locals. They sell a wide range of traditional sweets and products such as: Baklawa, Maamoul, Buche, Diet sweets, Nougat, Jams, Cakes and dried fruits.
Prices are reasonable.
As you wander through the souqs in Tripoli with their wide array of fish. meat, vegetables, fabrics, clothes and homewares to name but a few wares, you will come across the Soap Souq next to the gold souq. Here you will find several small shops still selling soap made in the traditional way, such as balls of many different colours and fragrances as well as soap formed into shapes such as pestle and mortars, cedars trees, etc. We bought mint fragranced soaps at $5 each. These soaps are made using only natural ingredients such as olive oil and are hand made in factories in Tripoli.
Tripoli is Lebanon's second largest city and had managed to retain its old character with its medieval centre, Mameluke and Ottoman period monuments and its ancient souqs. It is also more conservative than Beirut and has a distinct Arab feel to it.
Overlooking the centre atop the hillside is the Crusader castle of St Gilles Citadel which was named after its founder, Raymond St Gilles. The external shell of the Citadel is very well preserved and inside you can explore the passageways, courtyards and vaulted chambers as well as the upper ramparts which afford great views over Tripoli.
Unfortunately, nothing is labelled, but you can employ a guide to show you around for an extra fee.
The Citadel is open daily in summer from 8am- 6pm and in winter from 8am-4pm. Entry costs LL7,500 and LL3,570 for students.
Built in 1325 AD, al-Qartawiya is thought of as the most beautiful madrassa (theological school) in Tripoli. It was commissioned by the governor of Tripoli, al-Qaratay, whose tomb lies inside. The edifice has a highly ornate portal with beautiful muqarnas half dome and intricate geometric designs, typical of Mamluke-period construction. Crusader influence can be seen in the portal in the Corinthian columns as well as the zigzag carvings in the arch above the stalactite half dome.
A late Mamluke-period mosque, Uwaysiyya was built in 1460 AD. It is difficult to see from the narrow alleys of Old Tripoli, but the mosque has an oversized cupola and a round minaret with muqarnas decorations. The minaret was added during the Ottoman period. In fact, an inscription on the minaret says that the mosque was renovated during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman (the Magnificent).
Although serving exclusively as a mosque in recent history, al-Burtasiyyeh Mosque was originally built as a madrassa. It is thought to have been completed a little before 1324 AD, when its builder, Isa ibn Omar al-Burtasi, died. The mosque is one of the most interesting in Tripoli as it mixes various styles into this unique structure. The beautiful square minaret towers above the mosque's portal, which is set within a tri-lobed arch, clearly influenced by Crusader architecture, with muqarnas decorations and alternating black and white stones, typical of the Mamluke period. One side of the minaret has double windows on two levels, reminiscent of Córdoba's architecture in Andalucía. The interior of the mosque, with its domed crown, is strikingly similar to Ayyubid architecture from Aleppo, while the mihrab is decorated with glass mosaics, rarely used in Islamic architecture since the construction of the Omayyad Mosque of Damascus (see attached photos).
Yet another mamluke-period madrassa in old Tripoli, an-Nasiriyya dates from around 1360 AD. It was named after the Mamluke Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir Hasan, son (or grandson?) of the famous Qalawun who liberated the Levant from Crusader hands. The Madrassa's architecture is typical of the period, with alternating black and white stones and a muqarnas-carved portal. Madrassa an-Nasiryya is located opposite the Great Mosque of Tripoli and currently houses the mosque's library.
This beautiful Mamluke-period mausoleum ("mashhad") is adjacent to the Great Mosque of Tripoli. Little is known of its history or of the identity of the person buried within. The craftsmanship of the architecture, though, is astounding. The entrance has a typical muqarnas arch (stalactite vault) and Mamluke-style motifs.
Right below the Crusader Castle lies Old Tripoli. The narrow meandering alleys of this part of town boast some amazing examples of Mamluke architecture from the 14th - 16th centuries and a few remnants of Crusader structures. Within those narrow, partially-covered alleys lies the souk of Tripoli, as well as numerous mosques and domed mediaeval madrassas (theological schools) with their muqarnas decorated portals. This part of Tripoli is an authentic mediaeval Middle Eastern town worth exploring and experiencing. Attached are more photos of enchanting Tripoli.
For more photos, take a look at the travelogue: "Scenes from Old Tripoli".
A tiny mosque, Tahhan was built over a set of shops in the souk of Tripoli. The mosque dates from either the late Mamluke period or the early Ottoman period (probably between 1500 and 1600 AD), but is entirely Mamluke in style with its octagonal minaret and alternating black and white stones. Because of its name "Tahhan," which means "miller", the mosque may have been built or financed by a certain local miller. Only the mosque's short, but oversized octagonal minaret and part of the façade are visible from the alleys of the Tripoli souk, towering above the shops. The minaret is considered an architectural gem due to its fine stalactite decorations.
Al Mina is the seaside half of Tripoli. It is built on the site of the ancient city, Tripolis, but unfortunately little or no ancient traces remain for the city has been destroyed numerous times during its long history. Al Mina today is a pleasant and relaxed part of Tripoli with cafés, restaurants and seaside walks. It also contains some of the city's hotels.